He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools shall be destroyed. Proverbs 13:20
My grandfather, who went a long way in raising me, would remind me every time I walked out the door that “stupid sticks.” What he was really saying was to be careful not to put myself in situations or surround myself with people that I knew were going to be a bad influence.
We all have had those people in our lives at one point, or maybe still do – where no matter what, it seems like things always take a turn for the worse when you’re with them. They may look like they are having a great time and living the high life, but then again, none of us are ever surprised when some fast-living celebrity drives their Ferrari into a tree at 140 mph or when a world famous politician suffers a huge moral failure. We, of course, think it is sad and often times a tragedy because of how young, talented or successful they may have been, but none of us are ever surprised. Often times, the people who continuously hang out in bad environments are soon the ones instigating the bad behavior.
Never forget: stupid sticks.
However, I think we neglect to look at people who are thriving in their lives and ask the question, “Why are they doing so well?” We should be figuring out what environments they spend time in and who they surround themselves with that is contributing to their success.
A book came out a few years ago that talked about why Bill Gates became Bill Gates. The author’s belief was based on the fact that Bill Gates went to one of the few high schools in America that had a computer, meaning one reason he was so successful is because he was exposed very early to the programs that revealed his great capacity for understanding computer technology. There may have been other people in the world who could also create that kind of greatness, but they didn’t have access to the early tools to do so. Because there were people around Bill Gates who were wise – teachers, administrators, mentors – Bill Gates had the opportunity to also be wise, and he ran with it.
We as leaders, have to make sure that we are encouraging people on our teams to put themselves in positive situations and to surround themselves with people who are wise, just as often as we remind them to avoid toxic situations and people.
This is why, at Southwest Michigan First, we believe it is important for people on our team to be serving on boards in the community and serving with organizations that make them better, that put them in an environment where they are spending time with other great leaders. It’s why we do a lot of co-leading and partnering with other leaders both in this community and nationally, instead of doing everything in a silo.
Here’s a different example: I am a co-founder, along with two great leaders, of a unique economic development conference called Engage. The whole premise of the conference was built around the idea of a dinner party. If we could invite any fellow leaders in the industry over for dinner, to share ideas, to make each other better, to learn from – who would we invite? So, for 11 years now, by invitation only, 33 of us come together each year from around the nation for two days to openly share economic development leadership best practices. We share things that have worked, things that haven’t worked, but our entire purpose is to make each other better. We choose to take time sharpen each other’s saws, so we can each return to our organizations and lead at a higher level.
As leaders, do we have to do these kind of things? No one will ever force you to, but to be great wherever you lead, you must surround yourself with the wise, so that you too can lead with wisdom.
Question: Who are you spending time with? Are they making you better or worse?